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First thoughts: Obama vs. Cheney

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Abby Livingston

*** Obama vs. Cheney: In the past week, a series of thorny national security issues -- all dating back to the Bush era -- has clearly frustrated Team Obama. First, the president angered liberals and human-rights groups when it announced it was opposing the release of those detainee photos. Then his administration said it was keeping the controversial military tribunals, although with some revisions. And now congressional Democrats have rejected Obama's funding request to help close Guantanamo Bay. These things all set up Obama's big speech tomorrow on Gitmo and national security. But get ready for a fascinating national security showdown tomorrow, because Obama isn't the only one speaking on Thursday. Dick Cheney gives a speech tomorrow -- about an hour or so before Obama's -- at the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank. No doubt Cheney will try and respond to the criticisms the Obama administration and other Democrats have been leveling at the former vice president and other Republicans. Of course, Obama's speech comes with a lot of expectations. Many in Washington are already expecting him to somehow calm the critics down on both the left and right with a speech that 1) makes a clearer case why his administration doesn't want to look backwards on interrogations; 2) why Gitmo has to be closed; and 3) and where the Gitmo detainees should be moved. 

*** Just askin': By the way, we have this one question for the GOP straw-man argument on Gitmo: So is living near a prison with CONVICTED rapists or murderers safer than living next to a prison with SUSPECTED terrorists? Discuss.

*** How to win friends and influence enemies: One thing supporters of the White House are pointing out this week is that, despite the rhetoric from some opponents, the president has had a remarkable early track record at getting long-time opponents to negotiate with each other and with the White House. The examples: yesterday's emissions announcement (where industry and labor groups stood besides the president), health care (industry folks pledging to reduce health-care costs), and even financial regulation. Obama supporters point out that leading business leaders have showed a willingness to work with the White House, and he's used that to his advantage by getting major compromises early on. Can he keep this up?

Video: Surrounded by leaders from the auto industry, President Barack Obama announces a national energy policy that is designed to boost car and truck mileage, while decreasing fuel consumption and emissions.

*** Steele's combative speech: Talk to those close to the RNC chair, and they'll tell you the most important takeaway from his speech to GOP state chairs yesterday was the following: The party plans to more directly confront Obama. As inviting a target as other Democrats may be (see Pelosi), Steele made the case the party won't make progress without starting to inflict political damage on the actual leader of the Democratic -- er, "Democrat-Socialist" -- Party: Barack Obama. "We aren't going to be silent," he said. "We are going to speak up, and we are going to show that we have the courage of our convictions." But for those looking for something substantial, issue-wise, Steele's speech was lacking. It had one too many clichés, and didn't seem to get into exactly what the Republican Party stands for. But remember who Steele's audience was yesterday: members of the RNC. And the chairman is still trying to win over the trust of these folks. So he needed to throw them some red meat and didn't need to get into the weeds. Steele's goal yesterday was assert himself as leader of the party, and he probably took a step forward with these party insiders. Still, it raises an interesting question for all Republican leaders: Just what does the party stand for? It seemed to be a struggle for Steele yesterday.

*** Move along, folks, nothing to see here: Also in his speech yesterday, Steele boldly declared that the Republican Party has turned the corner. "The time for trying to fix or focus on the past has ended…The introspection is now over. The corner has been turned." But when Steele and other Republicans cite spending and the ways of Washington as the only reasons why they find themselves out of power and at all-time lows in polls, we're not so sure they've learned the lessons from 2006 and 2008 -- which also included Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. attorneys scandal, Harriet Miers, and Terri Schiavo. What do those things have in common? Ideology and favoritism trumped competence and governance; confrontation was more important than compromise. And Republican leaders often stood by and didn't raise objections. To win elections, you have to win the middle, and right now the middle is breaking Obama's way, with Arlen Specter joining the Democrats and Jon Huntsman about to work for the administration. One other thing: As Adam Nagourney recently wrote, tone matters in politics. Are RNC members really going to pass a resolution today calling the Democratic Party the "Democrat-Socialist Party"? We'll find out, although the meeting isn't supposed to be begin until 5:00 pm ET.

Video: Speaking at a party meeting, RNC Chairman Michael Steele says "the two-party system is making a comeback'" and he intends to make Democrats live up to their "arrogance of power."

*** Pelosi's job is safe for now: As we noted yesterday, Democrats began rallying around embattled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. At yesterday's White House event on his new fuel standards, Obama went out of his way to praise her. And in his pen and pad session, Pelosi's No. 2, Steny Hoyer, said he believed her in her dispute with the CIA. Still, Republicans are smelling political blood, with former Speaker Newt Gingrich (who knows a thing or two about pushing speakers out of office -- see Jim Wright and himself) writing in Human Events, "The person who is No. 2 in line to be commander in chief can't have contempt for the men and women who protect our nation. America can't afford it." But let's get one thing straight: Pelosi isn't in danger of losing her job -- yet. Gingrich stepped down after a poor GOP showing during the 1998 midterms, as well as receiving an ethics reprimand. And Trent Lott, after his remarks about Strom Thurmond, was expendable for a Bush White House that didn't trust him. Pelosi doesn't have those problems. In fact, the White House likes her because she takes so many arrows for Obama. But has her margin of error with DC Democrats been slightly eroded? How much does she need to watch herself, for instance, on the John Murtha story and make sure she doesn't get dragged into that?

*** The Terminated: As expected, the budget ballot measures that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger championed went down to defeat yesterday. The only ballot proposition that voters passed was a measure freezing state officials' salaries when California faces a budget deficit. Schwarzenegger -- who remains in DC and has a media avail with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today at 10:45 am ET -- released this statement last night: "We face a staggering $21.3 billion deficit and in order to prevent a fiscal disaster, Democrats and Republicans must collaborate and work together to address this shortfall. The longer we wait the worse the problem becomes and the more limited our choices will be. That is why tomorrow, we will come together to begin to develop a budget solution that gets our state back on track."  Everything the governor seriously campaigned for went down. With this election now behind him, it's now the second serious attempt at government reform Arnold's attempted that's failed. Is the Arnold experiment now essentially over? Does he have ANY political capital left to attempt anything for the remainder of his term, or is he a lame duck governor thanks to the startup already of the 2010 campaign in that state?

*** Meet Carlos Moreno: Our latest SCOTUS profile is for Carlos Moreno, who currently sits on the California Supreme Court… Pros for Obama: Moreno is Latino, and Latino groups are pressing Obama to select the first Latino Supreme Court justice… Cons: He's male, and the court is stacked with men with Justice Ginsburg now the only sitting woman. He's also 60 years old, which might concern some liberals about how long he would be able to serve on the court… The New York Times today breaks down his ideology: "A moderate whose opinions deftly blend matters of the head and heart, he is admired on the political left and right — part of the reason Kenneth W. Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton and is now the dean of Pepperdine University School of Law, said 'he is genuinely revered here in California.' … Before joining the California Supreme Court, served as a federal district judge (appointed by Bill Clinton)… Also served on the Los Angeles Superior Court and the Compton Municipal Court… Received his law degree from Stanford (1975) and his undergraduate degree from Yale (1970).

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 13 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 20 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 167 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 531 days

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